Health staff smoking ban criticised

HEALTH staff are to be told they must not smoke while wearing a uniform or ID badge - even when they are not at their work premises - under tough new rules.

By Sarah Chambers

HEALTH staff are to be told they must not smoke while wearing a uniform or ID badge - even when they are not at their work premises - under tough new rules.

Suffolk East Primary Care Trusts combined board is being asked to approve a new smoking policy when it meets on Wednesday - but public service union Unison has branded the plan “unworkable” and “unenforceable”.

Under the policy, PCT workers must not smoke when off site in a public place if they are in uniform or are wearing a visible ID badge or it is otherwise apparent that they are an employee of Suffolk East PCT.

The policy also says they should not smoke when visiting other premises, even though they may be allowed to do so according to the rules and conventions applied there.

As well as not being permitted anywhere on trusts' premises, smoking will also not be allowed in the trusts' leased and pool cars at any time, except where the driver contributes to the lease cost for personal use of the vehicle. Even then, it will only be allowed in non-work time.

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The policy does not apply to privately-owned vehicles except there they are on PCT premises or are being used on PCT business.

PCTs chief executive Carole Taylor-Brown has issued a policy statement in which she points out that more than 120,000 people in the UK die from smoking each year, and says that all PCT buildings, vehicles and outside grounds will be smoke-free.

The policy applies to all staff, volunteers, patients, visitors, contractors and any other people who enter PCT premises for any purpose.

“The cessation of smoking in all the PCTs environments (including the grounds of all establishments) will improve their appearance as cigarette butts will disappear from underfoot and the pall of smoke around entrances to buildings will dissipate,” a report to the combined board says.

Once the policy has been approved by the board, there will be a three-month lead-in period in which staff will be encouraged to comply. After that, a breach will result in disciplinary action.

Ian Talbot, Suffolk HealthCare Unison branch secretary, warned that the move could force smokers underground, causing health and safety risks.

“It's just absolute rubbish, the whole thing from start to finish. It's unenforceable,” he said.

“If somebody is on their own break time and if they are going to work in their own vehicle they are saying they can't actually smoke in their vehicle in the car park.”

He claimed the policy as set out would cause problems with Health and Safety leglislation, trespass laws and human rights.

“All it will be is to have smoking underground and you'll probably actually find there's more fire risk,” he said.

Some smokers could end up smoking in cupboards or toilets to avoid detection, he pointed out.

“The union is in favour of smoke-free, but not the way that policy is written. It's unworkable. This will go down like a lead balloon.”